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My first Stephenson work
And I'm already completely in love with him. Anathem is definitely a Readers Are Geniuses kind of work, they make some attempt to explain what's going on, but you'd best be up to snuff on fields like particle physics, relativistic and quantum mechanics, the philosophy of knowledge itself, and the origins of consciousnesses if you want to be fully up to speed.

My only major beef with Anathem is that Stephenson abuses giving ordinary things new names to distraction: you will get frustrated for the first several hundred pages, asking yourself why he needs a new word for absolutely everything, from cellphones to lettuce. And when I say "several hundred pages", bear in mind that represents only a fraction of the book: Anathem is a long one, although unlike some hefty tomes out there (*cough* Lord Of The Rings *cough*), I couldn't pin down any particular part of the book that could've been cut without adversely affecting the story, so I guess it's okay. One might argue that Stephenson's long-winded descriptions about how things like clock towers work in his universe aren't strictly necessary, but that's much of the fun.

The entry for Anathem gives a pretty good overview of the plot, so I'll be brief here: it takes place in a world where very smart people isolate themselves in Medieval-university-like "maths", and make every attempt to be cut off from the outside world, which they politely but firmly regard as inferior (the outside world doesn't think much of them either). Of course, Something Big happens to start driving the plot along, in the form of lights in the sky and an apparent conspiracy to discredit the protagonist's mentor. I'll stop here.

Anathem is a page-turning read, no doubt about it. Stephenson finds just the right ratio of plot-to-scientific-rambling that neither makes the book too tedious nor leaves you totally in the dark. You'll emerge from Anathem more exhilarated then when you went on, and knowing a lot more about metaphysics to boot. Heartily recommended. This was my first Stephenson work, but it won't be my last.
The early learning new words sections didn't bother me actually. I did find quite a bit of the middle section, where Raz is wandering around the world quite boring and I think it could have been a lot shorter than it was.
comment #2250 138.77.2.133 13th Apr 10
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